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International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Invention

ISSN (Online): 2319 7722, ISSN (Print): 2319 7714 ||Volume 5 Issue 12||December. 2016 || PP.55-60

Language Change and Maintenance of Tamil language in the

Multilingual Context of Malaysia
Paramasivam Muthusamy, Atieh Farashaiyan
University Putra Malaysia
University Kebangsaan Malaysia

ABSTRACT: The prevailing multilingual situation of Malaysia reflects the gradual shift in the use of minority
languages (ethnic) like Tamil, both in formal as well as informal domains of language use. There are several
reasons for language shift to take place in the maintenance of language, and one such is the existing power that
goes with language(s). How Far language attitudes, linguistic views and power based policies will poster the
use of concerned language for the benefit of society at large is indeed a challenge and seems to be a question
mark. The Malaysian Tamil society is gradually shifting to language like English and Bahasa Malaysia as
media of instruction to achieve education needs in different displaces of knowledge, considering the modern
economic- scientific and technological occupational- developmental progress and needs of the society.
Moreover, these kinds of existing rigidity in attitude towards language use and emotionally motivated views
might cause problems in the long run for society in getting education or employment opportunities. Language
policies has made mandatory use of Malay education, use of the English language at different levels with
power and efficiency, use of mother- tongue languages in education and mass media as far as possible. The
present day generation prefer training in job-oriented, application and practice oriented education, so they are
forced to shift from their mother- tongue to the national language or English for specific purposes. This is
because of the restricted use of their own languages. The present day use also reflects the shift from spoken
Tamil to English as the home language of the Tamil community. So, this paper emphasizes the social relevance
of the sociolinguistic research that is more concerned with d developing community, especially their language
use. More so area the language policy activities in order to approach the problems faced by that community in
formal domains of language.
Keywords: language shift, language maintenance, multilingualism , language policy, mother tongue

The Nation of Malaysia comprises two major areas, West (or Peninsular) Malaysia and East Malaysia.
They are separated by the vast expanse of the South China Sea. West Malaysia is divided into eleven state
namely Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Perak, Pahang, Kelantan, Terengganu, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan, Malacca and
Johor.. In addition, There are the three Federal territories of Persekutuan, Putrajaya and Labuan, the first of
which is the Federal District where the capital of Malaysia , Kuala Lumpur, is located. East Malaysia, in turn,
comprises only two state, Sabah and Sarawak that extend along the northern coast of Borneo and cover
approximately one-fourth of the island. The total population of Malaysia is approximately 29 million according
to the census data of the National Population and Family Development Board (2010). The county is a
multiracial kingdom where the monarch is selected from among the sultans presiding in each state and rotated
for a period of years. It accommodates a large number of ethnic groups among which the most numerous ones
are the Malays as well as other indigenous people ( bumiputra), the Chinese and the Indians. The approximate
break down of these ethnicities is as follow: Malays and other bumiputras (Or native of the Malaysian soil),
62%; Chinese, 27% Indians 8% and others 3%.



Malaysia is a multilingual country where at least 4 main languages namely Malay, English, Chinese
and Tamil are used in formal and informal domains of language use. However there are other native and non
native, but all minority languages. English is recognized as a second language and given a significant place,
especially in the formal level activities.
Existing Multilingual Practice
Administration :
Bahasa Malaysia
Bahasa Malaysia ( major role)
English (important role) & considerable importance
Chinese Tamil (minimum role as ethnic languages)
(as medium of instruction, language teaching learning)

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Language Change and Maintenance of Tamil language in the Multilingual Context of Malaysia
(Mass) Media


Bahasa Malaysia
Chinese Tamil
- Radio Television & others

Practice and Role of Minority Ethnic language (other than above)

1. Native Malaysian languages like Iban,kadazan,Dusun etc
2. Languages of Indian origin Telugu, Malayalam, Punjabi etc



In the era of independence in Malaya education policies were formed to unite the education system
towards multi culture and multilingual. One of them is The Report of Education Committee of 1956., better
known as the Razak Report, which laid down the goals, direction and basic thrusts of the national education
policy ( Asia Abu Samad 1994). The report laid down clearly its objectives and strategy towards nationbuilding. It was also a guide to our language planner to mould the education policy. According to Asmah Haji
Omar (1982), the Razak Report highlighted its concern of the use of various languages spoken in Malaya
especially English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese. It also paved the way to use the Malay language as a national
language in all schools. This was later gazetted as Language Act 1961.
The Language Act 1961, paved way for Malay language to be introduced, as a medium of instruction in
primary and secondary (higher) schools and English was taught as a second language in all the primary and
secondary school. The Chinese and Tamil primary continued teaching in their respective mother tongue but
introduced Malay language as a national language and English as the second language. English was also
retained as the medium of instruction in the former English school until 1970 when the medium was gradually
converted to Malay language in stages. Conversion period from English to Malay language took place in stages.
In 1968, Physical and Health Education, Music, Art and Craft, and Local studies being the first to
convert (grades 1-3). In 1969, Civics (starting from grade 4) began to be taught in the national language,
followed by history and geography (also from grade 4) in 1970. In 1970 too, the remaining subjects not yet
taught in the national language Science and Mathematics, began to be converted to the national language
progressed stage, so that by 1975 all the subjects at all levels of primary education in these schools were taught
in national language (Asiah Abu Samah 1994, p.55).
In 1975, the conversion period were completed. All the subjects were taught in the national language
except for Chinese and Tamil Schools. The schools continued teaching all the subjects in their respective mother
tongue except languages for Malay and English languages which was a compulsory subjects in this school. This
scenario changes when all the primary school students were given secondary education under one roof. All the
subjects in Form 1(grade 1) were taught in the national language.
By the end of 1980 the conversions from English to Malay medium in the secondary school were
completed, From 1981 the sixth form classes began their conversion to the national language. In 1983 all
courses in the local universities were progressively converted to the national language. All the primary,
secondary school and higher education centres in Malaysia used Malay language as medium of instruction until


4.1 Language Policy
The change in language policy (Razak Report 1956) was able to maintain the use of Tamil language in
Tamil primary schools. Therefore, Tamil language was safe guarded through this policy. So to this date, all the
524 Tamil primary schools in Malaysia are teaching all the subjects in Tamil language except for Malay, the
national language and English, the second language. This scenario shows that teaching and learning in formal
situation is still maintained.
4.2 Tamil Language in Secondary Schools and Tertiary Level
In secondary schools Tamil language is taught as mother-tongue subject (POL). The Tamil language as
a subject is taught and students are prepared for public examinations in schools, for example, Lower Secondary
Examination, School Examination Certificate (O Level) and Higher School Examination (A Level). Tamil is
also taught as a course for training the Tamil teachers at Teachers College. In the universities Tamil is taught as
a program for Tamil teachers. There are also Tamil courses as Major and Minor which emphasizes language,
literature and linguistics. Tamil language is also taught as a proficiency courses.

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Language Change and Maintenance of Tamil language in the Multilingual Context of Malaysia
4.3 Tamil in Media
In the Malaysia setting various media such as television, radio and the press have contributed
significantly for the growth of Tamil (Paramasivam, 2010). The Malaysian radio programming included 24hours
of Tamil broadcasting in its Indian language channel where
Tamil occupied 95% of its broadcasting. Apart from songs and music considerably time is allocated to
talk shows, poems recitals and plays or dramas. Apparently, locally printed magazines and dailies as well as
magazines from Tamilnadu (India) are all available in Malaysia. This creates an ample of opportunities for
Malaysian Tamils to read and develop Tamil language skills and vocabulary.
Another effective media which contributes greatly to the growth of Tamil is the Internet. All major
Tamil dailies can be found on websites and these contain a wide range of Tamil news. This creates another stage
for Tamil language to be maintained and used by younger generation.
4.4 Tamil Associations
Tamil Associations all over Malaysia offer multiple activities with the objective of developing Tamil
language skills and reinforce Tamil culture concepts. One of its primary activities of these associations is to
support for the publication of Tamil books dealing with different aspects of Tamil language and culture. The
presence and maintenance of Tamil language is also prevalent in Tamil political party, for example, Malaysian
Indian Congress (MIC), where this party is focused on Indian welfare, where Tamil language is used as the main
medium of interaction.
All these situations and scenarios show that Tamil language is used and maintained among the Tamil
speakers in Malaysia although they are in the multilingual society. Although, Tamil is used and maintained, but
the language as a minority language faces challenges.


One of the main challenges of minority languages is language shift. If a minority language cannot be
maintained, there are several outcomes. For example, language death, speakers become bilingual and young
speakers become dominant in another language (Schiffman, 2007). In Malaysia if Tamils shift languages there
are two possible outcomes. One is that they become Malay speakers and the other is to become English speakers
(Schiffman, 2007). According to Paramasivam (2010), there is another possible outcome, mixed speakers,
whereby the Tamils speak Tamil and English or Tamil and Malay. These speakers codeswitch from one
language to another by using Tamil with another language. This happens because they live in a multilingual
society who speaks in a variety of languages.
In an article written by Marimuttu in Sandu and Mani (1993) volume, he has made a claim that the
educational system provided to the plantation workers at estate, the community only used Tamil solely as a
medium of communication. But in the era of globalization, Malaysia has moved from agricultural to industrial
sector. As a result, plantation workers and their children have migrated from estates to several parts of the cities
seeking for economic needs. A different scenario has existed for these Tamil plantation workers who have only
used Tamil as a medium of interaction but now in the new demanding and challenging setting, they need to mix
with other language speakers. Hence, the need to converse in Tamil has been reduced or not needed at all.
Apparently, there are some Tamil plantation workers who have excelled and become well educated. They are
now in higher economic status due to their educational background. This group of Tamils who are well educated
are becoming English speakers. As a result, they have become a threat for the maintenance of Tamil language in
Another challenge for the Tamil language maintenance is that Tamil is not used widely by other
language speakers compared to English or Mandarin language. Tamil language is only preserved and used for
the cultural, religion, ceremonies or entertainments by the Tamil speakers only.
The present prevailing situation in Malaysia is that the Tamil language is only practiced by the Tamils
and their children emotionally (Paramasivam, 2010). Tamil is protected by these speakers by safeguarding the
language and repeatedly reminding them to preserve the language or the language may die. They are also
constantly reminded that Tamil is our mother-tongue and its must be practiced so that the next generation will
continue speaking it.

In conclusion, Tamil was used full-fledged in estates among the plantation workers not only as for
communication but also for religion and cultural purposes. But due to the development in Malaysia, as a
developing country, more and more Tamils are speaking less in Tamil specially the educated Tamils as it is not
a demanding language for economic purpose. Tamil is still used culturally and it is protected emotionally by the

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Language Change and Maintenance of Tamil language in the Multilingual Context of Malaysia


Abdullah Hassan. (1940). Language Planning in Southeast Asia. KualaLumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka .
Arasaratnam, S. (1970). Indian in Malaysia and Singapore.
Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University.
Asmah Hj. Omar. (1982).Language and Society in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka
Asmah, Haji Omar. (1992). The Linguistic Scenery in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
Asiah Abu Samah Language Education Policy Planning in Malaysia: concern for Unity, Reality and Rationality
in CONFERENCE PAPERS, pp.137-148.
Paramasivam.M (2010). Codeswitching Among Malaysian Tamils: Sociolinguistic Study. USA : VDM Verlag.
Schiffman H.F (2007).Language Shift in the Tamil Communities of Malaysia and Singapore . (online article )

Appendix 1
Tamil Language and Its Use (Maintenance) Maintenance of Tamil in Malaysia

Appendix 2

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Language Change and Maintenance of Tamil language in the Multilingual Context of Malaysia
Appendix 3

Appendix 4
Language Maintaitenance: Language Shift

Appendix 5
Maintaining Tamil
(as a home Language)

Maintaining Tamil as
language of Education

Maintaining Tamil as in
Media Language

Maintaining Tamil in
Socio-cultural activities etc


1. School (pre-school
including) education
2. Medium of
3. Teaching/Practice
for the use of
spoken Tamil/day
to-day living

1. News Media

1. Performing Activities
2. Interacting
3. Intra Group
4. Contacts


Among the Education

Among youngsters
Among older generation

2. Socio-cultural
3. Magazines + Journals
4. Communication of
Tamil ( For report
Advertisements etc.
contact etc.

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Language Change and Maintenance of Tamil language in the Multilingual Context of Malaysia
Appendix 6
Findings and Discussion

Appendix 7
Learning Through

Appendix 8

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